Happy Tuesday! I hope people aren’t too tired from busy Mother’s Day weekends; the beginnings of the week are hard enough, right? 😉 One coworker of mine told me she was tired from helping her mom plant 50 new flowers Sunday, buying and spreading 35 bags of mulch! And I guess 50 and 35 must have been magic numbers, because Jeremiah had to tote 35 50-lb. bags of rocks to cover a sinkhole on their farm Sunday. Holy cow! My Sunday was comparatively laid-back–well, I suppose, laid-back, period. 😉
Thank you again to all of you who supported my memoir preview event, either with your presence or your encouragement. Jennifer and I had been invited by Marianjoy’s Auxiliary to speak at their Spring Luncheon this year. (Click here to see my initial announcement and the invitation.)
The whole event was fabulous, from the location, to the food, to the presentation itself. College of DuPage’s Waterleaf Restaurant was a gorgeous venue to choose for a spring luncheon, and apparently, this was the Marianjoy Auxiliary’s second luncheon there (the restaurant opened only a couple of years ago). With spring finally arriving here in the last few weeks, the buds around facility were in full bloom–a lovely site with the venue’s glass walls. I don’t have the photos from our event yet, but I will post some at a later time, and here is a photo from Waterleaf’s Facebook page:
It was hard to count exactly how many people attended, but it sure seemed crowded, especially from our little spot up front. (Jennifer and I rather comically figured out how to maneuver to share the microphone meant for one.) I think there were at least 70 people there.
After raffles and a delicious lunch, Jennifer and I were up! We were incredibly nervous; no matter how many times we tell my family’s story of my TBI, it is emotional and nerve-wracking. Part of it was that “performance high” feeling I’ve gotten from being onstage since the age of five. (Having no other high to compare this to, it is an imaginary allusion. 😉 ) It’s the rush that comes from working really hard on something and imagining the best case scenario, and it feels like you’re flying–but the giddiness, too, that comes from not wanting to look down and see how far away the ground is. You’re flying, this is the moment you’ve been waiting for, and the only thing to do is focus on the act, to look ahead at where you’re going; focusing on the ground will only make you crash. There I go, inserting poetry into an entry that’s meant to be narration… 😉 Anyway, I love that feeling right before performances or speeches I’ve worked hard on, and I’m so lucky I get the opportunity to do public speaking all the time for my job at Marianjoy.
However, with this type of speech, there is always an inherent fear that people won’t “get” it. It’s one thing for someone to dismiss a poem you’ve written about a butterfly or an ancient Greek goddess, maybe both beautiful, but neither directly related to you. It’s another thing to pour out your entire soul, bare yourself completely naked and worry that people won’t respond well. Of course, this is a metaphorical baring; I was, in fact, wearing a gray shift dress, black blazer, and gray pearls that I remember vividly because I spent hours agonizing over what to wear. 😉
It’s a nakedness that’s taken me years to be comfortable with. The more you can refer to something in the “past tense,” the easier it is to separate yourself from a painful memory, right? Well, that may be true in general, but the fact is, a brain injury is a permanent badge–it stays with you for life. There is great potential for recovery (like I was blessed to undergo–from <5% chance of survival to having two degrees and a great job), but it is something that will always be part of you. I’ve learned that the secret to true peace and “wholeness” comes when you embrace the very thing you’ve been trying to overcome. Always strive to surpass limitations and be the best you can be; it’s not about accepting limitations, it’s about admiring how far you’ve come and how those triumphs have defined your character.
This can be a hard place to get to when you’ve been through a traumatic event. While I’ll never remember the car accident (it happened too quickly for my brain to process it), remembering and learning anew what my family went through when they supported me is a humbling and somber process. I’ve been so blessed to have their support all along, and it felt so reassuring to have my sister by my side at this memoir event.
I’ve never ignored the TBI or recovery process, but it’s not something I really pondered over at enormous length until my graduate memoir class at DePaul with Michele Morano. That very class was the whole reason I signed up for the Writing & Publishing program there; I knew I would need help putting the muddied emotions into words. I love to write, but ironically, it had always been hard to write about myself (still is, at times). It’s much easier to imagine how a fictional character might react to a situation than to dissect how you, yourself feel–and then, you have to turn it into art! My professor was wonderfully understanding, giving me the advice and push I needed to start the process of writing my memoir about the event. Ever since the TBI happened, everyone who’s heard about what happened to me urged me to write a book about it, even before knowing I was actually a writer. I realized that while people sadly get injured all the time, the perspective, support, and beauty of what I went through was something special that needed to be shared so it could help other people going through a dark time.
When the President of the Marianjoy Auxiliary, Mimi Rose, asked Jennifer and me to share our story at the annual Spring Luncheon, we were flattered and agreed immediately. When Mimi found out I was writing a memoir about it, she encouraged me to share selections from it as part of the presentation.
Although we were excited for our presentation, it was a pretty daunting feat. I have spoken at several events for Marianjoy in the past, but this would be much longer and more comprehensive. I chose what I thought was a good array of pieces reflecting different aspects of the experience, and Jennifer helped me form an outline for the presentation. It was our mom’s idea to intersperse verbal anecdotes in between the stories, mostly from Jennifer, and we thought the idea was brilliant and went with it.
In the end, I didn’t get to read everything I’d planned within the time constraints–but that was OK. The audience was so kind and empathetic; my boss says “there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.” There was a lot of laughter, too, because so many absurd things happen when things are supposed to go a certain way in recovery–they never do, right? I think the more serious an event is, the more potential there is for little things you’d never expect to sneak in and be funny at the same time. I was so happy for the balance of reaction, because that’s the very message I want to get across, the very reason I’m writing my memoir and even this blog: when things seem sad or dark, have faith, because they just may turn out for the best. They may change your path and give you purpose; I know they did for me.
Many people came up to Jennifer and me afterwards and complimented us, thanking us for sharing our stories. We both really appreciated this, because as I said, it can be nerve-wracking being so completely candid about something so personal and deep. To top off the loveliness of the whole day, our mom won a donated raffle for a bottle of wine and a restaurant gift certificate, and each of us got to take home a transferable flower pot. While I’m not sure exactly how many people attended the event, I know each ticket was $40, so I’m sure we raised a nice amount of money for the Marianjoy Auxiliary. 🙂
I’d like to end this post with a thank-you again to everyone who made the event possible. Thank you to the Marianjoy Auxiliary for the invitation; to my sister, Jennifer, for speaking with me; to our mom as well as our family friend, Sue Ann, for attending and supporting us; to everyone who attended the event; to the doctors, nurses, firemen, therapists, friends, and family who assisted in my recovery; to my memoir teacher, Professor Morano; and to you, dear readers, for reading this post and your constant support. ❤